bo·​ba ˈbō-bə How to pronounce boba (audio)
: bubble tea
Usually when you find something solid and chewy in your drink, it's time to call for the waiter. But that's what boba drinks are all about. They're a concoction of either tea or juice combined with milk, fruit syrup, ice and—the surprise—small marbles of tapioca. More than one person has likened drinking boba to finding a Gummi Bear in your smoothie. But these drinks, in flavors like sour plum and kumquat-lemon and sipped through an extra-wide straw, are the latest fad beverage on the West Coast.Jeffrey Ressner, Time, 5 Feb. 2001
The restaurant, which served boba, smoothies, frozen yogurt, desserts and vegan-friendly food, closed in late September …Gary T. Mills, Times-Union (Jacksonville, Florida), 20 Oct. 2011

Word History


borrowed from Chinese (Beijing) bōbà, name for the large tapioca balls found in the tea, perhaps literally, "large breasts, large-breasted woman"

Note: The form bōbà is alleged to be Taiwanese colloquial or slang for "large breasts" or a "large-breasted woman." The character combination in this sense can easily be documented in World Wide Web documents, but it is uncertain if the source of the spoken word is Taiwanese Mandarin, Min Chinese, or something else entirely; it is also unclear if the designation for the tapioca balls is an independent expressive/associative coinage or a derived meaning. The claim that bōbà is a Sinicization of English bubble seems unlikely.

First Known Use

2000, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of boba was in 2000

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Cite this Entry

“Boba.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Apr. 2024.

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